The road less traveled

Posted June 26, 2010 by wctoffee
Categories: Uncategorized

After the South Africa game we had to focus all our energy and meticulous planning capabilities on the journey from Bloemfontein to Port Elizabeth for the next day. It looked like roughly a 9 hour drive (we’d heard everything from 5 to 12 hours from locals we had asked) and it was a 4 o’clock kick off so we’d need to be sensible today. Unfortunately an afternoon of drinking beer in the sun followed by an evening of drinking beer and Jagermeister severely curtails one’s sensible gene.

When the shrill sound of the alarm went off at 4:30am Richard and I took the only sensible decision, roll over and go back to sleep. Luckily Kieran is made of sterner stuff and replete with 3 monumental hangovers we left at about 6am.

We had maps, duplicate GPS, printed out directions and the address of the hotel in Port Elizabeth. We were set. The scenery was great. Of course when you travel over 700km you have the change to see various scenery but the scenery was great. For the first few hours we hardly saw any traffic (hence the Robert Frost reference) just eerie fog, mountain passes, tundra like landscape and monkeys by the side of the road. As we got further along though we ran into more and fans driving across the country and finally we descended from the mountains onto the coastal plain & beaches by the Indian Ocean.

We were a bit wearly having been driving since 6am but when we arrived at Port Elizabeth (about 2pm), we were confident everything was Ok. Then things started going wrong….

We followed the GPS co-ordinates to the tee quite literally, as it directed us to a golf course in town with clearly no hotels in site. No problem, there are sometimes mistakes with map data but we know the name of the hotel and the address so we’ll just look at the map. It was on Marine Drive, so shortly  we arrived at Marine Drive in Port Elizabeth.

What a lovely area and lovely town. It was a part of town called Summerstrand. Beaches, piers, boardwalks, loads of hotels, bars etc. and absolutely teeming with England fans in town for the Slovenia game. Time now 2:30m. Getting tight for a shower before the game but no big problem.

A quick aside to introduce my 2 travelling companions. Richard, def a type A character, likes everything to be planned several months in advance and is not so keen on deviations from agreed plans. Kieran and I on the other hand are more of the ‘go with the flow’ school and quite happy to make new plans as things evolve.

After fruitlessly driving up and down Marine Drive for 20 mins, Richard’s blood pressure is certainly looking elevated. Kieran and I are opting for just parking the car, go to the game first and worry about the hotel later.

In a compromise we stop at a Radisson Hotel to ask the concierge there for help. They were very helpful but had absolutely no idea where Whalesong Coastal Lodge was. No problem we’ll call Directory Enquiries and sort this out once and for all.

Got the number, called Whalesong Coastal Lodge. Transcript roughly as follows:

Me – is that Whalesong Coastal Lodge ?

Them – yes

Me – do you have a reservation for Mr Long (Richard) for today ?

Them – let me check, er yes

Me – we’re having trouble finding you, could you please confirm your address

Them – Marine Drive, Plettensburg Bay

Me – we’re at Summerstrand, is that close ?

Them – never heard of Summerstrand, where’s that ?

Me – you are in Port Elizabeth, aren’t you ?

Them – (looong pause) – no sir, we’re half way along the coast from Port Elizabeth on the way to Cape Town. 

Realisation kicks in. The hotel we have booked is 400km away ! 

Time now 3pm, one hour before kickoff. After initially collapsing on the floor laughing at Richard’s face as he realised the futility of our situation we agree to go the game first & then sort out a hotel later.

The game itself was great, England played pretty well and we qualified. We still didn’t have anywhere to stay for the night though and by the time we got back to the car park it was about 8pm. 

Walked along the beach strip, knocking on every door asking if they have a room. The only problem was it was prob the busiest night in Port Elizabeth’s history as EVERY England fan in South Africa was there. Felt like Joseph & Mary trying to find a place to stay in Bethlehem…

After an hour of absolutely no joy we went back to our new best friend, the concierge at the Radisson. He honestly called about 30 places to no avail but then we started to trawl the net wider. He eventually found a room for us in Grahamstown which looked pretty close on the map and was almost on the way back to Joburg (tomorrow’s 12 hour drive)

We set off and quickly found out that the place our concierge had found us was actually 160km (100 miles away). Can’t even remember what time we arrived. It was certainly after 10pm.

Having been on the road for about 11 hours we were shattered.

So all the congratulatory texts, emails and messages about the amazing night on the tiles we must be having in Port Elizabeth with all the joyous England fans were somewhat in vain. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow. At least England had won which just about made it worth it.

Certainly when we found out that our next opponents would be Germany, the day’s travails paled into insignificance as we licked our lips in anticipation…

 

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France vs South Africa

Posted June 26, 2010 by wctoffee
Categories: Uncategorized

It must be an unwritten law for a football fan attending a World Cup that you should attend at least one game of the host nation. I was luckly enough to see Germany play Argentina at Berlin in 2006 and the atmosphere gave me goosebumps (not goosesteps). It would make the journey to Port Elizabeth the next day to see England a bit tight (little did we know at the time..) but it must be worth.

The atmosphere was amazing, no question. The noise was almost deafening. Having laughed at Richard for wearing earplugs I was quite jealous of him by about 10 mins into the game. One thing was disappointing though, the game wasn’t a sellout. Haven’t seen any sold out games yet despite what pompous mutterings come from FIFA. They might not care because they have sold their tickets to corporates and others who didn’t bother to turn up. To have thousands of empty seats though at the game where South Africa bade farewell to the competition was a disgrace and very sad. There were plenty of people milling around outside who would have loved to share the emotion of the day.

The game itself was Ok but nothing more. The South African team played quite well and rediscovered their pride. The French were already in disarray & it’s difficult to pour any more scorn on their efforts. Their whole adventure was surreal & it seemed the perfect ending when the French FA cancelled their first class tickets home and forced them to travel economy class. Can just imagine the conversations as they mingled with their fans….10 hours of non-stop gallic shrugging..

Final word though surely to the South African fans. The people of this country could not have been more gracious or friendly hosts (examples in later posts). Was sad to see them go but very happy they went out with heads held high.

Go Bafana Bafana and Thank You for some wonderful memories

Parlez vous Franglais ?

Posted June 21, 2010 by wctoffee
Categories: Uncategorized

The English are known for many things around the world:

  • incessantly talking about the weather
  • inventing games & then watching the rest of the world become much better at them (see Football, Cricket, Rugby etc. etc.)
  • politely joining a queue for any kind of trivial or pointless benefit on offer

One thing however we’re not generally known for is our mastery of languages. I readily admit to my guilt here. Having lived in many different countries around the world I can say the key phrases of “No problem” and “One more beer please” in an impressive variety of languages but when it comes to actual discourse then I’m afraid I’m limited to:

  • English
  • Louder & slower English (the language we use universally when people don’t speak English)

Of course then I also have my secret weapon, the smattering of French I learnt at school. Today therefore was a golden opportunity. I had managed to get the plane from Cape Town to Bloemfontein, check into the homely Bed and Breakfast and now the only remaining mission was to get into town and find tickets for the France vs S. Africa game tomorrow.

Bingo, we met some French in the driveway of the B&B getting out the taxi.

“Er excusez moi, avez vous les billets por demain ?”

Gallic shrug. What do these crazy Engleesh dogs want ? 

The lady nodded & showed me her piece of paper, She did indeed have a ticket for tomorrow but not a spare one. Thanks luv. Later.

So on to town we dash and make for the local FIFA Ticket Office, a place that is to efficiency what Donald Trump is to modesty. At the Ticket Office we (politely) enquire as to the availability of tickets for tomorrow’s game.  Sorry, we don’t have tickets now but there may be some cancellations / returns so if you’d like to join the queue over there…

A rush of adrenalin coursed through my veins, YES a chance to queue. Upon excitedly swivelling round I couldn’t help but notice though that many of the people in the queue had already grown beards they’d been waiting so long. The men didn’t look so great either.

Declining the proferred consolation prize of readily available tickets for Solomon Islands vs Vatican City on the Namibian border we decided to strategically position ourselves outside the Ticket Office and accost any French who had just collected their bounty.

This is where things really looked up. Pierre and Pierre (see caption photo) emerged sheepishly from the ticket office looking very smug. I casually sauntered over and in fluent Franglais uttered:

“Ah bonjour mon ami, je voudrais acheter des billets – avez vous some ?”

Unfortunately Pierre spoke as much English as we spoke French. so dialogue was a tad challenging.

“Yes, we have some. It is black. I read it in a book.”

“Ok, er combien ?”

“Mille cent, soixante six, quarante neuf & vingt et un EUROS”

“Come again, mon vieux sparrow”

“le price that is ecrired on le billet”

“Oh face value, good on yer mate”

So there we have it. Their team are in disarray, the French supporters are invisible as ever but Pierre and Pierre (their real names have been changed to protect the innocent) have generously given us the chance to attend a South Africa game.

It should be a tremendous atmosphere. Always great to see the host nation play and would have been sad to have missed seeing South Africa.

Plus, the icing on the cake. We get to bid “Au Revoir” to the French. Being multi-lingual certainly has it’s benefits…

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Nobel Square Cape Town

Posted June 20, 2010 by wctoffee
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s pretty impressive when a country the size of South Africa has FOUR Nobel Peace Prize winners. Here they are all lined up in a small square at the waterfront in Cape Town. Bonus point if you can name all of them. The guy on the far left is the tricky one (or at least was for me)

Cape Town architecture

Posted June 20, 2010 by wctoffee
Categories: Uncategorized

I had wanted to visit Robben Island on Sat but all the tickets were sold out for the forseeable future (England fans looking for a pied a terre for Robert Green perhaps).

So instead I just decided to wander round Cape Town and take photos of interesting stuff. Serendipity rode to the rescue though and over the course of the afternoon it gradually evolved into a home made, highly enjoyable architectural stroll.

Lot’s of lovely colonial buildings with many a story to tell, some of them quite moving. The variety of stone used in construction of the various buildings is quite striking, no monolithic grey concrete jungle here. I would guess many were limestone but some look like sandstone and some presumably are home grown Cape granite.

What piqued my interest the most though were the number of Art Deco touches. There were more examples here that I’d see walking the streets of London. Couldn’t find anyone to explain why but I’d love to know. Favourite example was the caption picture for this post. An exquisitely beautiful optometrists somewhere in the middle of town.

The more I see of Cape Town the more I like it. This is no superficial thin veneer of purely physical attraction (oh look there’s Table Mountain, let’s take a photo and go). No, this relationship has substance. Am already planning a family holiday…

England stand on the precipice

Posted June 19, 2010 by wctoffee
Categories: Uncategorized

One of the best known quotes from the late, great Bill Shankly “”Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.” If you’d asked me that last night straight after England’s abject display I might have agreed. Luckily though I got some perspective today by immersing myself in the history of slavery, apartheid & Mandela in Cape Town’s museums.

So, it may ‘only be a game’ but are there any positives at all to take out of the bore draw with Algeria ?

  • we didn’t lose ? (cue scraping of barrel sound)
  • the stadium was jolly nice, apart from the fact that the architect didn’t seem to have envisaged that more than about 3 people would concurrently want to use the toilets at any one time
  • Carragher was booked again so is now suspended
  • Graham Taylor is not the manager

Us England fans are used to disappointment, we really are. I suspect many of us secretly revel in the old heroic failure routine i.e. “oh, we def would have won the game & in fact the whole tournament if it hadn’t been for:

a) the ref

b) the opposition goalkeeper unsportingly saving our penalties OR

c)  the cheating antics of Johnny Foreigner

However one thing we do demand is 100% effort to the cause, “Once more unto the Breach” and all that. England are not a team of Nicolas Anelka’s. Never have been, never will be.

It is therefore disturbing to point out that there were players out there yesterday (Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard etc.) who not only played poorly but didn’t give 110%. That is unforgiveable.

However, we the England fans, will forgive you if you beat Slovenia on Friday. You have to wear the Three Lions jersey with pride though. Yes there is pressure and expectation. Yes you will be mercilessly pilloried and castigated if you don’t qualify for the next round but rise above that.

If you want some help with the mental side of things, try some visualisation. Imagine what John Terry would like to do with Wayne Bridge’s ex-wife and apply that, in a nice wholesome, family friendly, positive way, to Slovenia.

Fabio. Your defence is Ok. Upson or Dawson for Jamie is fine but let’s sort out the midfield and attack please. START JOE COLE. Drop Heskey. Play Gerrard up front off Rooney and then we can start playing some real football, not all this kick and rush nonsense that Der Kaiser is rightly moaning about.

and so the soap opera moves on to Port Elizabeth. Will it be a Rorke’s Drift (which British history records as a glorious victory but conveniently forgets that the British Army was wiped out the day before at Isandlwana)

OR

will it be an Agincourt where we really did play a good game and gave Nicolas Anelka a thorough drubbing

All the England fans are busily reminding and reassuring each other of Italia ’90 where we had 2 draws initially, won the last group game and amazingly went on to reach the semi-finals, only to lose to one of the immutable Laws of Nature “Germans always win penalty shoot-outs”.

It could happen. This could be the Great Escape Mark II but if it isn’t and if we don’t then Fabio’s subsequent press conference will be about as comfortable as Tony Hayward’s day in front of Congress this week.

Quality journalism alive & well in South Africa

Posted June 19, 2010 by wctoffee
Categories: Uncategorized